I decided to write this in order to draw attention to the damage that religion can cause to children. At the same time I want to say that my parents love me very much and have never done anything selfishly or to hurt me. Throughout my lifetime they have demonstrated that they would sacrifice endlessly to supply my needs and work towards my happiness. They are simply ignorant people who have always done what they thought was right.
Not two days ago I saw one of the children that used to be in my Sunday school class. “Do you remember me?” I asked him. Of course he didn’t. That was over five years ago. The memories came back to me of taking on the task of teaching children about Jesus even though I no longer believed in any god, didn’t like children, and the job made me very nervous. Why did I do it? I had become an atheist and was slowly realizing I was a lesbian. I couldn’t stand sitting in church anymore but there seemed to be no way out of it. I took on the class when I was asked to just to get away from all the people and all the preaching. I printed out coloring sheets every weekend and tried to find the most kid-friendly bible stories I could find. Believe me, this was extremely difficult! I ran out of stories in no time and found myself editing the ones I was left with to leave out the sex and the violence. Now and then the story wouldn’t make sense and one of the kids would call me on it. I then had to find some way to explain without explaining that Potifer’s wife had tried to seduce Joseph, or why the men in Sodom and Gomorah were yelling outside Lot’s house. I couldn’t even stand telling the crucifixion story. I sometimes spent less than two minutes on a story and spent the rest of the time just singing and playing around with them.
Skip to me at age three. My parents loaded the family in the van and we drove hundreds of miles across America and into Mexico to become missionaries. In Queretaro we had a tiny house. I remember that house in such detail. I hated ever leaving it. Outside the bars of the front gate were people who not only looked funny but they spoke to me in frightening gibberish. They insisted on touching my white-blond curls. I hated even for my mother to touch my hair. I was left in the house half the day with a babysitter I couldn’t communicate with. This place was starkly different. It was dirty and concrete and bleak and I was terrified, constantly wondering when we were going home.
Growing up in a foreign country simply didn’t work for me. Someone once told me that some people are born too sensitive for this world and that I must be one of them. I never learned the language fluently, stuck in a depressive stage of culture shock for years on end. I lived for the long trips to Texas to renew papers and enjoy the wonders of Wal-mart and McDonalds. When we went to the States I had trouble telling all the white people apart. People looked like movie stars to me because that was the only place I ever really saw Americans. And yet, I was still American, wasn’t I? Really, I became a person without a culture at all and I still feel as if for the rest of my life I will only be passing as a regular American woman, doomed to feel like a foreigner forever.
As a teenager I developed severe social anxiety disorder and depression. I know I was born shy but the harshness of the difficulty of language and cultural differences turned me into someone who felt fear almost twenty-four hours a day. But I was home schooled and that made it easy to never speak to anyone at all or try to learn to speak Spanish more fluently.
I rebelled a little. How so? I listened to Christian contemporary music and tried to leave the house wearing pants. I can’t remember how many times music was confiscated from me because it had too much of a beat.
At age thirteen I started questioning religion and stopped believing in god for two whole weeks. Those were the darkest two weeks of my life and I spent them teetering on the edge of suicide, feeling as if not only had I fallen in a black abyss but I had become it. There was no way out. No way to tell my family, no way to escape the lifestyle that was forced on me, no way out the country I had been dragged into. I was trapped, jailed.
Ultimately, I re-brainwashed myself into believing again. There was no other way to survive.
Later that year I began to have panic attacks in the night. I now know they were panic attacks but when I described them to my parents they said it sounded like demonic attack and proceeded to calmly open all the windows of each room and exorcise the house. They were convinced that the house was haunted because the previous tenants had had a Catholic shrine downstairs. A prayer was said over my head that God would place a protective sheild around me and I pleaded with God not to let it happen again. That night, my eyes darting around the room, terrified that there were demons present I, of course, had another panic attack but this time I didn’t call out to my parents for safety. I knew that I must not be a good enough Christian and that was why God wouldn’t protect me. I told my parents that it had stopped and suffered every night after that in silence. For several years after that I lived in terror of Catholic churches and shrines which are everywhere in Mexico. I lived in psychological trauma.
I was about fourteen or fifteen when my family came to the States on furlough which is basically a break from the mission field and a time to visit all of the churches that supported us. The plan was to live in Georgia for a year or so. I was determined I was never going back, even if it meant running away and being homeless.
As thrilled as I was to leave Mexico, trying to fit in in the States was more jarring and difficult than I expected. Not only did I suffer from the severe social anxiety but I had to try to fit into a new culture as a self-conscious teenager. I couldn’t tell people apart, couldn’t understand people’s southern accents, and didn’t understand any of the colloquialisms and jokes. I took things literally when I shouldn’t have and laughed at all the wrong things. This is understandable coming from a foreigner but I was a foreigner who was white and spoke perfect English. I was just really weird. I spent the tenth grade in a small Christian school never saying a word to anyone.
Life went on and I ended up in the Christian college my sister was in, following the path that was expected of me. There I relished my psychology and astronomy classes and in those classes I began to question again the logic of Christian theology and the existence of God. The teachers would teach facts that to me presented obvious contradictions to what they were teaching in chapel and bible classes. I looked around at the other students and waited for someone to ask these obvious questions but no one ever did. Too shy to raise my hand and too ashamed to admit I was having any doubts, neither did I. I let those questions nag at my mind, grow, and breed new questions.
I dropped out of college shortly for financial reasons and started to work instead. The questions had built up steadily until it seemed they were literally infinite. I began to fear that there was no God and at the same time that I was about to damn myself to hell for thinking it. At nineteen I went through a dark period similar to that I experienced at thirteen but this time much more intense. I could sense and envision the fire of hell directly under the floor I stood on in my bedroom and couldn’t escape it. I wanted desperately for God to give me answers so that I could stop questioning but there was no response, not in the bible and not in the theology books on my father’s shelf.
I remember the day - the morning - when I knew that I was letting go of it all. I finally felt all of the lightness of spirit, the inner peace, the understanding that Christianity had promised me all of my life. I felt free to be myself and pursue my own happiness and dreams for the first time. My subsequent thought was that this solved the problem I had with the idea of marrying a man. I could have sex outside of marriage, and hell, I thought to myself, I could be with a woman instead if I wanted! I laughed at this idea when it occurred to me but of course, it wasn’t long before I realized it was what was right for me. At nineteen I went through a mental puberty for the first time and found out what everyone was talking about when they spoke of attraction, affection, romance, and the rest of it. I let go of all the rationalizations I had come up with for those feelings.
But everything didn’t fall into place after that. I was still dependent on my family and had no clue how to break free of them. I had to pretend and the pretending took a great toll. I will leave out some details here but the strain of it all left me in the psych ward having overdosed on sleeping pills and unable to explain my actions to anyone. When I came home my psychiatrist told my parents they had no choice but to snoop in my room and make sure I had no dangerous tools or medications handy. My homosexuality was found out and after much family turmoil, forced “Christian Counseling”, and my first relationship with a girl (my first time dating at all) which my parents could not tolerate, I ended up living in my car for a summer and didn’t talk to my parents much after that for about three years.
Even now, feeling alone in the way I grew up and suffered because of the mission my parents dragged me on (a mission they told me was automatically mine also, although I had heard no calling) I remind myself that I am not alone because I once met a girl who seemed to be like me. Her family came to our church in Georgia and her father gave a slide presentation of their fruitless work in a remote area of the French Alps. He explained that people there were unfreindly to outsiders and scoffed at religion, thinking that they were too smart and educated for it. He mentioned that his children had never made friends in the many years they had lived there. The daughter I’m thinking of seemed as terrified of people as me. When she was asked to go out bowling with the youth group that night and her parents told her she had to go she went away and cried before coming back and putting on a strong face. That face was so miserable. I knew just how she felt.